Home » Wine Cellarage Blog > Food and Wine Pairing

Blog

How to Throw a Summer Wine Party with Lobster!

Boiled lobster from the coast of Maine with Sancerre!

Boiled lobster from the coast of Maine with Sancerre!

I grew up in New England spending a week or two of my summer vacation on the Atlantic coast each year. Whether we traveled to Maine or to Cape Cod, each summer there were multiple occasions when a load of fresh lobsters were boiled with sweet corn-on-the-cob and heartily enjoyed by family and friends. I pride myself on getting every morsel of sweet-salty meat out of those glorious crustaceans, a skill that was well honed in childhood.

Summer isn’t summer without at least one big lobster feast. And now that I’m all grown up, I’ve learned the art of pairing wine with my lobster! What could be better than a summer wine party starring lobster as the main course! If you know someone who lives near the coast in Maine, perhaps you can bribe them to procure a sufficient quantity of these delicious creatures for you…then, you need only supply some summer corn-on-the-cob, and of course, the wine.

Now that I live in New York City, lobster isn’t quite as easy to come by and not nearly as inexpensive as it is on the coast in Northern New England, but lucky for me, I happen to have two Maine residents in my family. Both my aunt and my brother-in-law live in Maine and have helped to quell my cravings for fresh lobster in recent years. My brother-in-law has even been known to drive all the way down to my in-laws’ in New Jersey surprising the whole family with a cooler packed to the gills with 50 or more live lobsters!  If you don’t have a personal connection to bring lobster to you, you can have live lobsters sent to your door. The Graffam Brothers Seafood Market, based in Rockport Maine, will ship live 1.25 lb lobsters to your door via overnight shipping for about $13 each (not including shipping). You can view their online market here.

Before your lobsters arrive, you’ll want to have a plan for boiling a large quantity. My family has devised a driveway set up with large boiling pots and small propane tanks for fuel. Having an outdoor dining table set up will help to keep the mess out of your home once the lobsters are done cooking and you are ready to eat. Keep the side dishes simple: corn-on-the-cob, potato salad and a green salad are perfect accompaniments. For dessert, strawberry shortcake or fresh berries with whipped cream finishes the experience on a lovely note.

To make this event a real summer wine party, choose four summer wines that will pair beautifully with lobster. First and foremost, well-chilled, refreshing rosé wine is a must. One of my favorite rosés of the moment is Chateau Miraval from Provence.  The Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie & Perrin Family endeavor is well worth the $20 price point. Impressive not only for its movie star owners but also for the winemaking Perrin family, from one of the Southern Rhone’s most prestigious estates…Chateau de Beaucastel of Chateauneauf du Pape fame!  Chateau Miraval has more than celebrity cache; it is a delicious, high quality wine that has the weight to stand up to meaty lobster.

Over the July 4th holiday, we tried the 2013 Foucher-Lebrun Sancerre Le Mont with our lobster and found that the wine’s freshness, salinity and minerality provided a nice compliment for the lobster’s sweet-salt flavor.

Chardonnay is the classic pairing for lobster and for good reason. Both old world and new world styles offer more richness and body than other white wines; the creamy flavors and sweet fruit of a good Chardonnay are delicious with lobster meat.  If you select a Chardonnay from California, choose one with some restraint so that it doesn’t overpower the flavor of the shellfish.

Finally, you can’t go wrong with some bubbly. You can serve this toward the end of the meal and it will refresh your guest’s palates and pair with everything on their plates. Champagne is incredibly food friendly and works well with just about everything you can think of, so why not lobster?

Keeping your wines at optimum serving temperature can be a challenge in the summer. Make sure that you put your Champagne, rosé, and white wines in the refrigerator to chill the night before. White and rosé wines are best served at around 52 degrees F, keeping reds at about 65 degrees F. Champagne and other bubbly wines deliver their optimum sparkle at 45 degrees F.

Ensure there will be enough wine on hand by calculating the number of bottles ahead of time, depending on your crowd, you’ll want at least a half bottle per person. If you will have under-age or teetotaling guests in attendance, consider a carafe of equal parts club soda and lemonade, as a refreshing non-alcoholic alternative.

Now you are ready to throw a summer wine party with lobster!

Live lobsters from Maine.

Live lobsters from Maine.

Freshly boiled and ready to enjoy

Freshly boiled and ready to enjoy

MORE »

Holiday Wine Pairings: Celebrating the Seasons

Holiday Wine Pairings: Celebrating the Seasons

Gathering family and friends together for a holiday often demands food and wine to enhance the celebration. Such a memorable repast, prepared with carefully selected courses, deserves the company of carefully selected wines. Ensure each culinary milepost is met with a glass that brings out the best in both cuisine and company by engaging a wine merchant’s enologic expertise. Even if you have extensive wine knowledge, you will likely be pleasantly surprised at the wealth of possibilities stocked here at The Wine Cellarage, your local New York City wine store.

First courses often find shellfish, cheeses, and crisps of various types plated for service. To complement this range of appetizers, pour a Sparkling Wine or a crisp, minerally Chablis to enhance the first bites while refreshing the palate. A Pinot Gris made in the slightly richer style of the Alsace region of France pairs nicely with additions of salmon and Pâté to the plate.

Second courses are intended to prime the palate with savory soups. To complement the course, a Meursault with high-altitude, medium body Chardonnay, hinting of yellow fruit, cloves, and earth, maximizes the spice and character of clear soups. A good Riesling will gather together the flavors of a cream soup for an elegant second course.

Third course salads, whether hot or cold, are refreshed with a medium bodied white that will begin to set the stage for the main course. A good Sauvignon Blanc from Napa, or a Chardonnay, will crisp and cleanse the palate throughout the course, smoothly leading to fourth course entrée.

Fourth courses provide for greatest variation, from light seafood and vegetarian fare, to substantial prime rib and game, allowing for broad interpretation by the hosts in wine selection. Here is where your own personality will shine as you select your favorite vintages for the main event. It is also a fine time to break open the bubbly, further highlighting the most important course of the meal, and supplying the effervescence to lighten the plates. The importance of the choice focuses on matching the weight and flavors of the dish with the wine so that neither is overpowered, and the aromas entwine to compliment and engage each other, elevating the course to more than the sum of its parts.

If you have yet to discover your favored Champagne or substantial Burgundy, as your local New York Wine merchant, we are here help!

Port wines deliver just the right spark to dessert courses, especially where chocolate is involved. The sweetness of the wine should match that of the course. Heavy tannins here would work against pleasing the palate in this closing course, so avoid Champagne and edgy reds in favor of sweeter, younger reds, jammy ports, with perhaps a demi sec Champagne for light, fruit-based desserts.

Most important of all is to serve what you love. Introducing friends to your own personal favorites is a joy and a pleasure that will be the stuff of memories for generations to come, creating new traditions with each celebration. For special birthdays and anniversaries, you might opt to purchase a few extra bottles of wines served to store and present at a later date in memory of the occasion. The recipients will be both surprised and grateful.

MORE »

Summer Wines 2013!

Summer is finally here, which means that it’s time to fire up the grill and break out the best of summer – light, bright, refreshing wines!  There are several good summer wines that I would like to recommend. I would also like to briefly mention what makes a good summer wine! These wines have been selected, because I feel that they are great for summer BBQs and fun low key gatherings, but they are also great for other times in the year as well. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have so far this summer!

The summer white wines that you want to buy for BBQs and gatherings are light, crisp, and refreshing.

Refreshing glasses of Sauvignon Blanc being served on a hot summer day!

The white wine recommendations are fruitier, but are not sweet. This style of crisp white wines is light and refreshing, especially when served well-chilled. These white wines can be great for a typical summery BBQ or party meal, like chicken or seafood, or they can be great for pre-main course snacks and appetizers!

Sauvignon Blanc is a great white wine for the hot days ahead! Sauvignon Blanc is perfect for summer, because it is typically a refreshing, crisp white wine variety. It can be a fruity white wine, but it can also be minerally and dry; there is a style out there for everyone.  Sauvignon Blanc is grown in various regions across the globe, including Bordeaux in France, Napa Valley in California, South America, South Africa and New Zealand.  Each of these growing regions lends a different character to the grapes and the finished wine, offering a lot of variety in Sauvignon Blanc flavors.  One of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs this summer hails from Napa Valley, the 2011 Mason Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($15/btl).

The 2011 Mason Cellars Sauvignon Blanc is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. On the nose, this spectacular wine offers aromas of fig and exotic floral notes.  The flavors on the palate are of summer fruits including citrus, honeyed grapefruit, melon, and quince! Don’t let all of this fruit turn you away though, because there is good acid present as well, which places this amongst the best dry white wines.  This is really a great white wine and a great value, I would say that this is one of the best sauvignon blancs under 20!

Our second white wine recommendation for summer 2013 is the 2011 Chateau Cantelaudette Graves de Vayres Blanc ($15/btl), a blend of white Bordeaux blend, which includes semillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle.  This is a wonderful dry white wine type considered a fantastic Graves “look alike”, and Graves produces the best white wines in Bordeaux. This is not only a dry white, but a fruity white wine as well, which are two typical characteristics of Graves. The aromas consist of citrus and some florals. The palate is long and has flavors such as melon, citrus, and fig, with a touch of wood and minerals. This white wine will go perfectly with summer salads, seafood, lobster, and any kind of appetizer that you would typically have in the summer.

Once the BBQ gets started, a glass of red or rosé is perfect! The types of rosé wine that we are offering are perfect summer wines! ‘Do you chill rosé wine?’ is a commonly asked question, and the answer is yes. Also, I find that the more chilled a rosé is, the more uplifting it is on a scorching day. Rosé wines are light, crisp, refreshing, and can be a bit more full-bodied than some whites. Rosés are great for everyone, but they are also great for the person who loves red but wants a cooler drink on a hot day. There are many spectacular rosé wines that we are offering for the summer…two of them are mentioned below!

For a softer wine that still packs a punch, 2011 Saintsbury Vincent Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Carneros ($15/btl) is wonderful. It is a medium to full-bodied, refreshing pink wine made from Pinot Noir.   The wine offers zesty aromas and flavors of plum, apricot, raspberry and blood orange. On the palate, the wine is vibrant with bright fruit, but not overly fruity, and a touch of acidity to make the wine perfectly refreshing. The finish is satisfying and lasts long. After one sip, you’re left wanting more.

Food pairing for the 2011 Saintsbury Vincent Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Carneros is easy, because it goes with almost anything, with the exception of heavier red meats. You can serve this with your snacks or appetizers at your BBQ or party, but you can also serve it with the main course of chicken, fish, or burgers. The 2011 Saintsbury is truly a good summer wine that is crisp and refreshing and is a great value under $20.

For a crisp, lighter rosé wine, 2011 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé Willamette Valley ($15/btl) is among our best wines for summer. Strawberry, orange zest, spices that build over time, and white flowers appear on the nose of this pink wine. This is a dry rosé wine on the palate, but it also has plenty of fruits and other surprises as well.  On the palate, red berries and citrus fruits make an appearance, followed by a good clean finish with some floral notes at the very end.  Ponzi Vineyards Rosé is a lively and fun rosé for any occasion during the summer and it is a great value too.

Your typical light summer fare will go particularly well with the 2011 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé. For example, I would recommend any kind of summer salad, like potato salad or a roasted vegetable salad tossed with citrus vinaigrette. Other salads that are ideal rosé pairings include baby spinach and arugula with a summer fruit and nut blend, tossed with a light summer vinaigrette. Risotto with fish and veggies is also a great summer dish to pair with rosé.  Chicken or seafood dishes will go spectacularly as well. Mediterranean style food is perfect since you want to keep it light and simple when serving a lighter style of rosé.

Any wine with bubbles makes a great summer wine.  Bubbly is always so versatile and you can have it before, during, or at the end of a meal! However, not everyone wants to spend the money for true champagne, which is why Prosecco is a great bubbly option.

The Prosecco grape originated during Roman times and is one of the oldest grapes in Italian history. Its origin and name can be traced back to the town of Prosecco in Trieste.  Prosecco grapes are transformed into sparkling wine using the Charmat method in which stainless steel tanks and yeast are utilized to produce a natural second fermentation. The process takes approximately 60 days depending on acidity, residual sugar and pressure. The Charmat method allows Prosecco to preserve its original flavors and perfumes longer. Prosecco is traditionally a dry wine with hints of apple and citrus.

NV Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry ($16/btl) is a great bottle of Prosecco. It has notes of white peach, lemon zest, and smoke on the nose.  For the palate it offers great flavors of granny smith apples, sweet spices, and floral notes. The finish is long, which leaves your mouthwatering and wanting another sip! It is dry, crisp, light, and oh so refreshing for these hot summer days ahead. Also, if you like a good dry white, then you will love this bubbly.

Pink bubbles are always fun for a celebration, but in the summer time, there is just something extra nice about them. If you want a sparkling Champagne rosé for a great price, NV Champagne Laherte Freres Brut Rose ($38/btl) is a wonderful choice. The red fruit and strawberry flavors are really what make this rosé Champagne the finest summer bubbly!

The best red wines for the summer are elegant in style…wines such as Pinot Noir and Beaujolais.  Today Beaujolais is a wine that has depth, concentration, great structure, good balanced acidity and length. These wines are more like Burgundy than ever before. The days of carbonic maceration are practically gone. Today the serious producer treats the Gamay grape just like its counterpart, the Pinot Noir. The result is a wine that has wonderful fruit (but not too fruity), structure and length.

2011 Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais Cuvee Traditionelle Vieilles Vignes ($14/btl) is, in my opinion, one of the best wines under 20, for its variety. It has such interesting flavor combinations that really get your taste buds excited. There are flavors of Middle Eastern spices, plum, red licorice, and black cherry. The nose is quite different than what you would expect with the flavors though. On the nose you smell woodsmoke, cherries, raspberries, and the minerals from the soil. This red wine is definitely vibrant and playful with good minerality, a fine core, and a finish that will impress you.

As a red wine lover, finding a good red wine for summer is a must for me!  Finding a great red wine like the 2011 Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais Cuvee Traditionelle Vieilles Vignes is a real treat!  I recommend trying this great red wine under 20 as soon as possible.

MORE »

Fine Wine for the Holidays

Posted By: | In: Tags: , , , | Dated: December 1, 2012 | No Comments »

Let the season sparkle with Champagne!

The 2012 holiday season has arrived and the promise of fun, festivity and plenty of fine wine is dancing through the frosty air.  The holidays offer more reason and opportunity than any other time of year to uncork, savor and share our favorite fine wines, the best of the best.

As we wine lovers plan our holiday soirées and celebrations, there’s nothing more enjoyable than hand picking the wines that we will share with our family and friends.  It’s time to pull out all the stops (wine stoppers, that is) and indulge in some really great wine. With so many wonderful wines to choose from, where to begin?

Below you will find a guide to holiday wines, from what to pour at your holiday party to the perfect wine gifts to give.  May your holidays be filled with happiness and lots of the very finest wine!

Holiday Party Wines

When selecting wines to pour at your holiday gatherings, choosing several styles to offer to your guests will convey a sense of abundance and ensure that everyone is happy.  By presenting a delightful selection of three different wine styles, you’ll be sure to please the varied palates of your guests. All under $20 per bottle, our recommendations for holiday parties are all excellent values, food-friendly and delightful to drink.

Rosé for the Holidays With its festive range of rosy colors and characteristic red berry flavors, rosé is one our favorite wine styles for the holiday season.  Incredibly food friendly, Rosé provides the best of both worlds, combining the brisk acidity and refreshing quality of a white wine with the body and structure of a red wine, making it compatible with a range of dishes.  To quote Julia Child, “Rosés can be served with anything.”

NV Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé ($18) There is no wine quite as festive as a pale pink, sparkling rosé.  Especially one that showcases elegant Champagne-like bubbles, fresh strawberry notes, caramel and floral aromas. Energetic and crisp on the palate, the NV Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux transitions into a terrific long finish. This sparkler can be enjoyed as a refreshing aperitif and is also an ideal companion for fruit-based desserts. This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.

Originally from Champagne, Philippe Collin moved to Limoux in 1980 to establish his own estate.  From a long lineage of Champagne-makers, Philippe brought his extensive knowledge of terroir and technical expertise to the region of Limoux in the South of France.  Limoux offered Philippe a unique opportunity, to take advantage of both the inexpensive vineyard land and the ideal microclimate for sparkling wine production.  Located just several hours inland from the Mediterranean, Limoux is the coolest area in the Languedoc and is among the earliest areas in the world to be known for producing sparkling wine, with records reaching back 1531.

2011 Paul Thomas Sancerre Rosé Chavignol ($19) This very light, salmon-colored rosé offers aromas of stone fruits and apricots with a tart red berry finish. The slight bitterness and crisp acidity make this a very lively and refreshing rosé. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this is a great pairing for grilled meat or fish, as well as spicy dishes.

Winemaker Raphael Thomas was trained by his father Paul and in 2000, he became the manager of the 6 hectare of the domain and produced his first vintage.  Raphael’s dedication to natural winemaking and traditional barrel fermentation results in a finished wine of superior character and style.

Bright Whites Wines You’ll always have a set of party guests that prefers white wine to red.  White wines make a wonderful and refreshing aperitif or accompaniment for first courses.  The selections below are easy to drink and versatile for pairing with a range of appetizers.

2010 Domaine Paul Chapelle Bourgogne Blanc ($19) A new domaine to us, this is truly a great value!  We like to think of this fine and beautifully balanced Bourgogne Blanc as a “Baby Puligny” with its racy minerality and lovely ripe fruit character.

Domaine Paul Chapelle is a very young domaine by Burgundian standards, having only been started in 1976, when Monsieur Chapelle inherited a parcel of vines in the fine premier cru Santenay vineyard of Les Gravières. Over the course of the next several years he pieced together a small estate with vineyard parcels in Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and Santenay. Prior to starting his own domaine, Monsieur Chapelle had made a name for himself as a consulting enologist at some of the very best estates in all of the Côte de Beaune, including Domaines Ramonet, Michel Lafarge, François Jobard, Paul Pernot, Simon-Bize, Hubert de Montille and Domaine de la Pousse d’Or…The style of the Paul Chapelle wines is quite classic (not surprising, given the quality of his previous clients), with an emphasis on expressing the underlying terroir of the different vineyard bottlings, and avoiding such cellar gimmicks as excessive new oak and heavy battonage. –Polaner Selections

2011 Richter Estate Riesling ($13) This Estate Riesling offers excellent quality and value. Aromas of rich orchard fruits, peach, raspberry and elderberry blossom tantalize the senses.  The wine’s subtle sweetness enlivens the taste buds.  The minerality, acidity and residual sugar combine harmoniously to create a vibrant, elegant wine with plenty of exciting verve. When in doubt, a dry German Riesling is one of the most versatile wine pairings, working marvelously with a variety of cuisines!

The estate of Max Ferdinand Richter has been owned by the Richter family for more than 300 years.  We had the pleasure of meeting proprietor and winemaker Dr. Dirk Richter here at our office for a tasting in early September.  Dr. Richter is as energetic and interesting as the zippy Rieslings that he produces.  Located in the heart of the Mosel region in Germany, Max Ferdinand Richter has grown to become one of the leading producers of quality Rieslings, with total holdings of 43 acres and an annual production of about 10,500 cases.  Richter’s Rieslings are true ambassadors of the rich Mosel landscape.

Warming Reds Wines Nothing warms the soul on a cold winter night like a nice medium to full-bodied red wine.  Take the chill off and set the party into full gear with the holiday red wines below.

2009 Paul Jaboulet Cotes du Rhone Parallele 45 Rouge ($10) Your eyes don’t deceive you, this wine is a steal at $10 per bottle, making it ideal for pouring liberally at holiday parties! The 2009 Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone has a merry and bright ruby red color with aromas of fresh black cherry and exotic spices.  Lush, well-rounded and medium bodied on the palate, flavors of tart cherry and cracked pepper add to the wines overall luster.

Taking its name from the 45th North parallel, which runs two kilometers from the cellars of Paul Jaboulet, the wine represents the transition to the Southern Rhone blending 50%, Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 10% Syrah from vines averaging 25 years old.  The grapes are sourced from vineyards throughout the Rhone Valley that meld to produce a pure and clean expression of this region.

2011 Bradford Mountain Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($15) Black raspberry and spice notes mingle with layers of dark fruit and a hint of sweet herb. This Zinfandel is elegant and seasonal with its rich fruit and spice quality.  Over the years, Bradford Mountain’s fruit has been purchased by iconic producers such as Turley, Gary Farrell, Quivira, and Alysian.  The estate’s current vines are between 8 and 37 years old and while the old-vine fruit is still bottled under the Grist Vineyard label, the younger vines supply fruit for the more approachable Dry Creek Valley appellation wine.

Zinfandel has extensive heritage in America, and an immigration story that reaches far beyond our borders.  The lush fruit character and versatility of these wines make them an ideal pairing for your holiday feast along with all the trimmings!

2009 Chateau Lajarre Bordeaux Superieur ($16) Aromas and flavors of dark fruit, plum and cassis dominate with subtle spice notes and a luscious, plush mouth feel. Aged 12 months in oak. 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc & 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

From the outstanding 2009 Bordeaux vintage, the Chateau Lajarre is an incredible value! The consensus among the wine experts is unanimous, the perfect weather conditions, a fine summer followed by dry, cool nights in September could make the 2009 Bordeaux vintage one of the best in decades.

2009 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($38) This classic Napa Valley Cabernet from one of the region’s iconic producers is rich, smooth and an unbeatable value!

“The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is wonderfully supple and fragrant. Silky tannins frame a core of expressive dark red fruit. Floral and spice notes are nicely woven throughout. This textured, gracious Cabernet Sauvignon should continue to age gracefully for another 7-10 years, but it is awfully good right now. The blend includes 7% Merlot and 1.5% Cabernet Franc in 2009. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2019.” – The Wine Advocate, 91 points

Holiday Dinner Wines

If you’re hosting a holiday dinner this year, we recommend turning to Champagne for some of the season’s most delightful pairings.  One of the biggest and, dare we say, most tragic misconceptions surrounding Champagne is that it should be reserved solely for special occasions, when in fact, it is one of the most perfect wine pairings for food across the board.  This holiday season, let Champagne be the answer to your food pairing quandaries!  Keep the bubbles flowing from first course to last and everyone at the table will thank you.

Champagne is generally blended from Chardonnay and two separate clones of Pinot (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), meaning that it often contains great elements of both white and red wine and offers the best of both worlds. Additionally, Champagne always has invigorating acidity, which is ideal for enticing the taste buds and refreshing the palate.  Champagne is not just for sipping pre-dinner or alongside first course dishes…certain powerful, full bodied Champagnes pair exceptionally well with red meats.

All too often, when people think about Champagne, they think of the Grand Marques Houses, i.e. Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck, etc. However, Champagne is made up of much more than just these well-known producers, which is why The Wine Cellarage is a keen proponent of Grower Champagne producers and smaller Champagne houses.

NV Champagne Laherte Frères Brut Tradition ($36) Champagne Laherte Frères was founded in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte and the original vines were predominantly located in the village of Chavost.  Today, the fifth generation is continuing the legacy with brothers Christian and Theirry, along with their families, at the helm of operations. The two brothers expanded the Laherte estate by updating the press and the tanks and bringing new techniques into practice, all the while maintaining a deep respect for their vineyards and terroir.  The brothers have remained faithful to the estate’s founding philosophy, which is grounded in hard work and natural winemaking.

Representing the vineyard terroirs of the estate, the Champagne Laherte Frères Brut Tradition comes from the Côteaux sud d’Epernay, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs.  The Brut Tradition couples elegance with energy in the delicate assemblage of the three Champagne grape varietals – Pinot Meunier (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%).  Champagne Laherte Frères is popular in Paris and can be found on wine menus and in wine shops throughout Europe.  Here in Manhattan, I recommend ordering a bottle of Brut Tradition the next time you dine at Bouley…this Champagne is quite at home alongside haut cuisine.

“The NV Brut Tradition is a beautifully precise, chiseled wine. Citrus, flowers and minerals are woven together in fabric of unusual elegance. This mid-weight, focused Champagne offers terrific energy all the way through to the finessed finish. It is a lovely effort. No disgorgement date provided. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2014.” – Wine Advocate, 90 points

NV Champagne Vazart Coquart Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserve ($52) Full of finesse, the ethereal, airy mousse of this Champagne is sublime. 100% Chardonnay, the Brut Reserve always includes 30 to 40% reserve wines, which imparts a signature style and taste that can be relied on and enjoyed year after year.

The Vazart-Coquart family has been involved in the wine business since 1785.  In 1953, Louis Vazart launched the domaine Vazart-Coquart.  Renowned winemaker Jacques Vazart took over for his father, and was joined by his son Jean-Pierre in 1995.  Exclusively located in Chouilly, the estates vineyard holdings cover 11 hectares (approx. 27 acres).  The Vazart family practices “culture raisonnée” (sustainable agriculture).

“Light yellow with a strong mousse. Toasty tangerine, nectarine and pear aromas are brightened by zesty floral and mineral qualities. Precise and fresh but at the same time broad and fleshy, offering taut citrus and orchard fruit flavors and a dusty undercurrent of wet stone and honeysuckle. Impressively balanced and pure, finishing with excellent cling and focus.” -  Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, 90 points

NV Champagne Pehu-Simonet Selection Brut ($40) Located in the heart of the Champagne region, Domaine Pehu-Simonet is a small house grounded in tradition. Fourth generation winemaker David Pehu continues the family’s legacy by producing estate-bottled grower champagne made exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards in Verzenay, Verzy, Sillery, Mailly and Mesnil sur Oger.  David began making wine for the estate in 1988 and has been solely in charge of the cellar since 1995.  David takes meticulous care in each step of his winemaking, from the vineyards, to the cellar all the way through to adorning the finished bottles with their label.  The craftsmanship and quality of this Champagne is immediately perceptible.  It is a personal favorite and an impeccable choice for dinner parties throughout the holiday season!

“The NV Brut Selection is another beautiful wine that gains in complexity through the blending of fruit from Verzenay, Veryz and Sillery. It is a gorgeous, finessed Champagne graced with exquisite elegance and purity. It presents lovely detail in a refined expression of red berries, flowers, chalk and spices, all of which flow to the cool, minerally finish…” – The Wine Advocate, 92 points

NV Champagne Henri Goutorbe Cuvee Prestige ($45) Henri Goutorbe is a family owned estate located just north of Epernay, in the heart of the small Grand Cru village Ay.  The Henri Goutorbe Estate has been passed down through three generations and is now in the hands of Henri’s grandchildren, Elisabeth and Etienne, who are passionately committed to producing fine champagnes in the family tradition.

A flute of Henri Goutorbe’s Cuvée Prestige will transport your dinner party to a far off local with an exotic bouquet that is particularly refreshing at this time of year. Opulent mango, nectarine and floral aromas mingle with notes of sweet yellow plum. Rich and full, vivacious acidity, sound structure and refined elegance come together to offer an exceptional experience on the palate.  Enjoy this Champagne with anything from lobster to beef tenderloin.

Holiday Wine Gifts

From Napa Valley Cabernet to Burgundy, The Wine Cellarage offers a selection of highly rated wines from celebrated producers that make perfect gifts for the wine collector on your shopping list.  Browse our Holiday Wine Gift Guide for ideas to please the wine lovers in your life.  Here’s a peak at our favorite collectible wines to give this holiday season:

2008 Chateau Clos Marsalette ($25) “A gorgeous perfume of kirsch, licorice, spice box and cedar is already evolved, complex and alluring. Medium-bodied with excellent fruit intensity, supple tannins and a round, generous, medium to full-bodied finish, this sleeper of the vintage is a complex, Graves-styled effort meant to be consumed over the next 8-10 years.” –The Wine Advocate, 91 points

Château Clos Marsalette is partially owned by Stephan Neipperg, who is well-known for his Bordeaux wine properties in St. Emilon. This includes Châteaux Canon la Gaffelière, Clos L’Oratoire, and La Mondotte, among others. The 5.46 hectare vineyard, managed by Neipperg, produces Clos Marsalette in the same manner as his more expensive Chateaux.

The Clos Marsalette vineyard is planted in both red and white grapes in a terroir that is mostly gravel, stones and clay. The cepage for the red wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The property practices sustainable viticulture. They do not use any insecticides or herbicides in the vineyards.  Clos Marsalette practices whole berry fermentation which takes place in a combination of oak and cement tanks with a 26 day cuvaison. All cellar movement is done by gravity flow.  Malolactic fermentation and aging take place in 50% new French oak barrels for 18 months. The average annual production is 1,500 cases.

2009 Domaine Bernard Dugat-Py Charmes Chambertin ($480) “The 2009 Charmes-Chambertin is beautifully balanced and harmonious from start to finish. This regal, aristocratic Charmes fleshes out in all directions, showing off its considerable elegance and finesse. A persistent vein of minerality gives the wine its sense of proportion and energy. Dugat used 50% whole bunches on his Charmes. There is so much pure pleasure in every taste. Anticipated maturity: 2019-2039.” – Wine Advocate, 97 points

2005 Champagne Pierre Peters Brut Cuvée Speciale les Chétillons ($95) Pierre Péters is a small family-run estate located in the center of the Côte des Blancs region, in the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil sur Oger. The Péters family has been growing Chardonnay and producing Blanc de Blancs Champagne since 1919, releasing their first vintage under the family name in 1944.

Over the years, the family has worked together to maintain their vineyards, growing and selecting only the best grapes and producing superior grower Champagne, dedicated to expressing the terroir and varietal character in each of their wines.

2009 Ramey Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard Oakville Napa Valley ($155) Founded by David and Carla Ramey, Ramey Wine Cellars is located in the charming town of Healdsburg, in the heart of Sonoma County. David Ramey is one of California’s leading winemakers, recognized for contributing innovative techniques to New World winemaking, while staying true to Old World traditions.

“The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard bursts onto the palate with an exciting tapestry of black cherries, plums, camphor, smoke and grilled herbs. It is a tremendously powerful, structured wine endowed with tons of richness. This dark, brooding beauty will require considerable patience, but is a stunner. Wow! The 2009 Pedregal is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot that spent 24 months in 100% new French oak barrels, every bit of which is masterfully integrated. Drink: 2019-2029.” – Wine Advocate, 95-79 points

Wine Gift Cards and E-Gift Cards Giving the gift of fine wine can be tricky, especially if you are unsure of your gift recipient’s specific wine taste. The Wine Cellarage gift card and e-gift card are convenient options that take the guesswork out of gift giving.  We’ll include your personalized message on one of our festive cards and we’ll mail the gift card right to your recipient’s door.  Our e-gift cards make great last minute gifts and can be emailed to your recipients anytime, from anywhere!

In addition to complimentary gift consultations, we offer free gift wrapping services and Free Manhattan Delivery for all orders over $100.  The Wine Cellarage is pleased to offer  new FREE Federal Express Ground shipping to Connecticut, New York and New Jersey on all orders totaling $500 or more. The option to ship via Free Federal Express Ground will appear at checkout for orders over $500 going to all zip codes in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

We are happy to do the heavy lifting so that you can kick back and enjoy the holiday season!

Cheers and Happy Holidays from The Wine Cellarage!

MORE »

To Mercurey and Beyond

Bottle of Faiveley's Mercurey Clos Rochette 2008

It’s not often that you get the chance to taste a Chardonnay from Burgundy’s Cote-Chalonnaise village of Mercurey, given that 90% of the village’s output consists of vin rouge. Citrus and fruit aromas are the first to tingle the nose on this Joseph Faiveley Mercurey Blanc Clos Rochette 2008 $25/btl followed by a light smokiness and wet stone. On the palate, notes of minerality and florals are distinct and crisp. The silkiness that ensues in the mouth gives it an extremely smooth finish, bringing along with it notes of pineapple and sweet apples.

At $25 per bottle, this Chardonnay is a great pick for a warm summer night dinner or barbeque, and pairs nicely with a variety of seafood dishes. Below you can find a grilled shrimp kabob recipe from Chef Billy Della Ventura to pair with this gem. All you need to do is fire up that grill, assemble your kabobs and pop a bottle of Faiveley’s Clos Rochette to enjoy a wonderfully paired and simply delicious meal.

Shrimp Kabob recipe

Now for a little background and a brief history lesson…

Domaine Faiveley was founded by Pierre Faiveley in 1825.The Domaine’s reputation took hold in the early 19th century when many Burgundian wine producers began traveling to Northern Europe to trade their wines for textiles.Today, the Domaine rests in the hands of seventh generation Erwan Faiveley.The family owns vineyards in some of the most prestigious appellations such as Pommard, Gevrey-Chambertin, Volnay and Puligny-Montrachet, among others. Several climats are owned exclusively by the family including Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos des Issarts, Beaune 1er Cru Clos de L’Ecu, and the Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru. Not bad, right?

MORE »

Crisp Rosé with Mediterranean Seafood Dish

Posted By: | In: Tags: , , , , | Dated: May 30, 2012 | No Comments »

Chateau Sainte Marguerite L'Esprit Rosé

Rosé lovers!  I’m sure you will agree that the best way to beat the summer heat in NYC is to uncork a bottle of well-chilled rosé.  If you haven’t tried the Chateau Sainte Marguerite’s L’Esprit Rosé from Cotes de Provence, you’ll want to add it to your immediate to-do list!  Uncork the Chateau Sainte Marguerite L’Esprit Rosé ($16) and you will be transported from the concrete jungle to a chic café on the French Riviera.

Comprised of Grenache, Cinsault & Syrah, this rosé is crisp, fruity and refreshing. Aromas and flavors of raspberry and strawberry are supported by the wines impeccable structure and balance. On the palate, the full fruit and silken texture sail through the finish. This rosé is elegant as an aperitif, yet has the structure necessary for pairing with heartier Provençal dishes such as bouillabaisse.  The L’Esprit Rose paired perfectly with the Pappardelle frutti di mare “Mediterraneo” recipe from The Wine Lover’s Cookbook: Great Recipes for the Perfect Glass of Wine by Sid Goldstein.

Situated on the French Riviera in the Cotes de Provence, Chateau Sainte Marguerite is one of the rare cru Classé from Provence, spreading over 180 acres.  A careful selection of vine varieties, conscientious cultivation methods and favorable climatic conditions make for a perfect terroir.

Pappardelle frutti di mare "Mediterraneo"

MORE »

Perfect Springtime Red Wine

Posted By: | In: Tags: , , | Dated: May 8, 2012 | No Comments »

2006 Francois Gay et Fils Savigny Les Beaune

Meet the perfect Springtime red…the 2006 Francois Gay Savigny les Beaune ($20) offers a core of red cherry and strawberry aromas overlain with orange peel, clove and rose notes.  A savory, gamey quality is present, adding to the wine’s complexity and intrigue.  On the palate,the texture is soft with lush fruit, fine tannins and vibrant acidity, giving way to a persistent, lengthy finish.

This wine is an excellent value that is showing beautifully now.  Pair with pan seared duck breast, braised kale and sauteed potatoes.

Pan seared duck breast with braised kale and sauteed potatoes.

MORE »

An Evening with Mark Gaier & Clark Frasier

From Left: Clark Frasier & Mark Gaier showcasing one of their amazing culinary creations!

On December 7th 2011, I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, the Chef-Owners of renowned Arrows Restaurant and MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine.  Mark and Clark demonstrated an unforgettable five-course menu for De Gustibus Cooking School’s Glorious American Cooking class.  The delightful menu included their Mushroom Pie and ethereal Cider Poached Salmon.  Trailblazers of the farm-to-table movement, their cooking styles showcase the pure, clean flavors of the ingredients that they use.  Each dish was delicious and sumptuous without feeling heavy, evidencing the true mastery of these great Chefs.

The featured wines were provided by importer Frederick Wildman & Sons and included NV Champagne Pol Roger Reserve, 2010 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Les Caillottes and 2008 Potel Aviron Morgan Cote du Py.

After the class, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark and Clark and ask them some questions about their culinary careers and wine preferences. The Wine Cellarage’s exclusive interview with Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier is below…

WC: Based on what I’ve read, you guys are trailblazers of sustainability and the farm-to-table movement.  What was the driving philosophy or inspiration behind the Arrows garden that you founded back in 1992?

Mark: The initial reason was necessity because we couldn’t find the produce that was good enough for our restaurant.  We had been in California before Maine and had access to nice fresh ingredients.  In New England, in the late 80s, it was still really difficult.  There were only a few local farmers and they were growing things and doing an okay business, some of them did a great business, but they couldn’t supply our restaurant with quite enough produce.  It was unreliable.  We felt that we needed to go with the spirit of the people that lived here 100 years ago and just grow what we needed. People used to be self sufficient in many ways and now of course most people aren’t.  We thought that with a restaurant like Arrows and five acres of land, we could have an incredible garden and it really worked out.

Clark: For most of the year, the garden sustains almost all of the produce for Arrows, about 90-95%, and about 20-30% of the produce for MC Perkins Cove.  It’s a lot. It’s the real deal and not just for show.  It is three quarters of an acre and one of the most intensely cultivated pieces of land you’ll ever find.

WC: Can you tell me a little bit about how you ended up opening a restaurant in Maine?

Clark: We were trying to open a restaurant in Carmel, California and it kept falling through.  We had a backer, but Carmel is really expensive.  One day, Mark’s friends called and asked if we would like to buy this restaurant.  Mark said, “Yeah, sure, but we don’t have any money”.  They really wanted to give us the option to buy and encouraged us to come check it out.  So we loaded up everything we owned, got in the car and drove across the country.  We said, “What the hell, we’ve really got nothing to lose.”

Mark: I knew the restaurant because I had lived in that area of Maine before, I frequented the restaurant, but never really thought I would buy it.

WC: Can you tell me about the wine list at Arrows?  What is the philosophy behind the wine selections?

Clark: The wine list is split to a large degree between French and Californian wines, with maybe 1/3 devoted to other international regions.  We have a particular depth in Bordeaux because Mark and I like Bordeaux and because we can’t keep enough Burgundies on hand, mostly due to demand.  The Burgundies fly out the door so fast.  We used to have about 700 selections on the list.  We paired that down during the recession and made the list leaner and cleaner.  We have two cellars with a lot of capacity. We’ve tried to make the list as accessible and interesting as possible. We try to have a lot of interesting, lesser known wineries and eclectic options.  We still love Bordeaux, so we keep collecting those and try to have a fair amount in that area.

WC: What was your biggest challenge in getting Arrows established in Ogunquit 23 years ago?

Mark: The location was challenging, because it is very seasonal in Southern Maine.  We’re not in a town, but in the countryside and in sort of a middle class resort area and Arrows evolved into a really upscale restaurant.

Clark: And if you will, the prejudice of Maine, that Maine is for lobster rolls, blueberry pies and down-home and it took people time to acclimate to the idea of a “Great Country Restaurant” which is what Arrows became.  Rattle people’s cage, and present a really interesting restaurant that’s not in New York or New Orleans or Chicago, not in the city.  This was a pretty wild concept and it still is.  In the Americas, people still don’t really look to the countryside for their restaurants.  I think that was a really interesting challenge.  And frankly, at that time Boston was a real backwater with just a couple of good restaurants.  There was Jasper’s and Aujourd’hui, and that was about it.  That’s why the Zagat guide kept having us as the most highly rated restaurant in New England.

WC: What experience(s) have had the biggest influence over your cooking style?

Mark: Working for Jeremiah Towers and Mark Franz at Stars [in San Francisco], had a strong influence on us.  We consider them mentors.

Clark: The story I told during class about living in Beijing and the seasons.  And Mark and I travel all the time.  That really not only influences our food, but for example, all of the uniforms at Arrows are hand made in Thailand.  All of the plates, a lot of the things at the restaurant are made for the restaurant from our travels.  The food and the whole sensibility are influenced by our travels.  We both really enjoy reading historical things, that’s really influenced us a lot.  For years we’ve done dinners that revolve around historical menus: Renaissance, Belle Époque etc.

Mark: Reading, research and travel are all elements that inform our cooking.

Clark: And then of course, the people who work with us have a big influence. Justin Walker has worked with us for 15 years and has had a real impact with ideas like foraging.  Mark and I don’t really forage, we’ll go out with him, but he’s the expert.

WC: Do you have a favorite wine region, if so, which is it and why?

Mark: I love Champagne.

Clark: We both love Champagne.

Mark: That would definitely be a favorite.  For me, Champagne and then Burgundy.  I like Burgundy more than Bordeaux. Clark prefers Bordeaux. I really love Burdundies…Drouhin is a favorite. For Champagne, I loved the Pol Roger earlier.

Clark: We love the Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, which a friend brought for New Year’s one year, a huge Methuselah sized bottle.  We love rosé Champagnes too, especially Billecart-Salmon.

Mark: That’s probably my favorite producer, especially the rosé.

Clark: Gosset is another favorite Champagne producer. I love Bordeaux, old and young, but it really has to do with the food for me.  I like lighter wines now, as I get older, which is really odd.  I always liked big wines, and now I’m more into light, food-friendly wines.

WC: If you could drink one wine every day, what would it be?

Mark: Bubbly.

Clark: Yeah, I could drink Champagne every day.

WC: What is your current favorite ingredient to work with?

Mark: That’s a tough one. Probably the mushrooms that we’ve foraged lately.

MORE »

An Evening with Chef Mourad Lahlou

Chef Mourad Lahlou with his Date Leather

On November 7th 2011, I attended the De Gustibus Cooking School’s fascinating “Culinary Destinations” class taught by Mourad Lahlou, Executive Chef and Owner of Aziza, the highly acclaimed, modern Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco.  Mourad’s energy, passion and focus were apparent as he prepared a stunning seven-course menu.  This was all on the tails of guest starring on the Martha Stewart Show, that morning!

Mourad was born and raised in the ancient Medina of Marrakesh amongst his large extended family.  At 20 years old, he came to the United States to study economics at San Francisco State University. It was during this time that he began teaching himself how to recreate his favorite Moroccan dishes with local ingredients using his own creative techniques. This experimentation blossomed into his career as a trail blazing Moroccan-American chef.

Mourad’s talent has not gone unnoticed.  In 2008, he was named a Rising Star Chef by StarChefs, and in 2009, the Chronicle raised Aziza’s rating to three and a half stars. Also in 2009, Zagat named Aziza one of the top 10 Bay Area restaurants of the decade, and Mourad won Food Network’s Iron Chef America by a record-breaking margin. In 2010, Aziza became the first Moroccan restaurant to receive a Michelin Star.  Needless to say, I’ll definitely be making reservations at Aziza the next time I’m in San Francisco.

The bright, exotic flavors of Mourad’s menu were perfectly paired with three delicious wines from the New Zealand Complexity portfolio.  The citrus and apple flavors of our favorite New Zealand sparkling wine, the NV Quartz Reef Methode Traditionelle from Central Otago, were a sublime pairing for Mourad’s Lentil Soup with date balls and celery salad.  The fourth course, a Salt-Roasted Thai Snapper with lettuce puree, was beautifully paired with Complexity’s Spy Valley Envoy Riesling from Marlborough.  The third wine selection, Amisfield’s Pinot Noir from Central Otago was delightful with all three! Cous Cous preparations that Mourad demonstrated.  This incredibly versatile Pinot sailed us through the rest of Mourad’s menu, pairing with both his Basteeya recipe (Moroccan meat pie) and his Beghrir (Moroccan pancakes).

After this energy packed class, I had the opportunity to ask Mourad some questions about his background and culinary career.  The attention that he gave to my questions was impressive, especially considering the whirlwind day that he had. The Wine Cellarage’s exclusive interview with Mourad Lahlou is below…

WC: I’ve read that you studied economics at San Francisco State University before becoming a Chef.  At what point in your life did you decide to pursue a culinary career?

Mourad: Basically I just stumbled on it.  I never knew that I was able to cook, I never knew that I had a palate that was clean and sophisticated enough for me to even taste good food.  Initially, when I started cooking, it was as a student.  I always invited people over because I didn’t have any money and I would cook for people for their birthdays.  That was literally what I did.  Instead of going to a restaurant, I would bring my friends home and cook for them.  I would prep for a whole day, sometimes for two days, and then people would come and we’d get together and eat.  My friends would say, “This so good, this is the best food that I’ve had”.  I would think, “You’re just saying that because it’s free, of course you’re going to say that.” I never believed them to be honest with you.  It became more and more precise in terms of people telling me why they liked the food.  Little by little, I gained enough perspective on food that I felt that I could actually make food.  Not just repeating dishes made either by somebody here, or back home, but I started actually intellectually trying to dissect and deconstruct every single thing that I was doing.  Trying to understand the science, the physics and everything that happens in the dish, and once I get a grasp on that, I say, “Okay, this is what I could possibly do. It would be really cool if I take this out of it and introduce it back in a different form or texture.”

WC: What do you consider to be the worst clichés and misconceptions about Moroccan food?

Mourad: The worst thing that I could possibly think of is probably that it is a food that is only enjoyed in the cliché setting of the tent, sitting on the floor and eating with your fingers and having a half naked woman shake her ass in front of you before you enjoy Moroccan food.

WC: Aziza’s wine list is very unique and eclectic.  Can you explain the philosophy behind the list?

Mourad: The list originally was put together by Mark Ellenbogen.  He was doing my list for about 15 years.  He was interested in biodynamic, organic wines.  He hates wines from California, so we had no wines from California whatsoever, and people took offense to that.  People would come to Aziza and see the list and say, “How can you be in a place like San Francisco and claim to be local and sustainable.  Why are you bringing wines from across the world?” His argument to that was that he doesn’t believe that the wines and winegrowers and makers in Napa have the same depth and the same philosophy as winemakers in Europe.  When he first put the wine list together, he used to have it categorized as the “old world” and the “new world” and he really believed that the grapes that were grown in Italy and in Austria and Germany were far more superior than the grapes that were used in Napa.  He also believed that the alcohol level in the wines that are made in America is a lot higher, so basically wine was made to make you drunk in a way, because of the percentage of the alcohol in it.  He really believed that the lower alcohol levels in European wines made them more suitable for food, rather than just as a cocktail.  He was more inclined to use wines from Europe.  And he went with the Rieslings, because he felt that they paired really well with the spices of the cuisine and the sweetness.  So, that’s how he put it together.  About two years ago, Mark decided to open his own restaurant, so now he’s partnered up with a couple other people and opened Bar Agricole, and when that happened, a lady by the name of Farnoush Deylamian is the one who’s taken over the list and she’s been doing the list for a year and a half now.  The list is more popular now than it was before because she’s not so opposed to having wines from Napa but has picked them in a way that is so unique.  She has great talent and is the same lady that does all of the cocktails as well.

WC: What experience(s) have had the biggest influence over your cooking style?

Mourad: The friendships that I have.  My friendship with Daniel Patterson, the Chef-Owner of Coi, and David Kinch, the Chef-Owner of Manresa, those relationships have really been an inspiration.

WC: Is there a market in NYC that you would recommend for sourcing Moroccan ingredients?  Do you have a favorite NYC marketplace?

Mourad: Kalustyan’s Spices and Sweets on Lexington Avenue at 28th Street (123 Lexington Avenue).

WC: Do you have an all-time favorite ingredient to work with?

Mourad: That’s a tough question, but I’d have to say it’s time.  I don’t like to be rushed.  If you skip a step or leave an ingredient out, the dish is not going to be the same. When making a Vadouvan spice blend for example, which is a French version of curry, every step is really important.  I have to say that time is my favorite ingredient.

MORE »

An Evening with Chef Ben Pollinger

Chef Ben Pollinger with his Loup de Mer en Papillote

On October 17th 2011, I attended a riveting “Across the Seven Seas” cooking class at De Gustibus Cooking School, which was taught by Ben Pollinger, Executive Chef of Oceana, NYC’s Michelin-starred shrine to seafood.  Ben was joined by Oceana’s Executive Pastry Chef Jansen Chan, who concluded the class with an impressive demo of four ethereal custards.  Pollinger’s dedication to showcasing the pure flavors of the ocean through his innovative cooking techniques was palpable in every bite that the class enjoyed that evening. Pollinger’s informative demonstrations included boning and filleting a whole fish (a branzino) from start to finish.

A New Jersey native, Ben Pollinger graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, as class valedictorian.  Ben’s distinctive cooking style is heavily influenced by his work and travels in France, Italy and Spain.  In addition to sustaining Oceana’s Michelin star for five years in a row, Pollinger is a father of three, an avid gardener and also makes the time to contribute to various charitable organizations including City Harvest, Share Our Strength, Autism Speaks and the James Beard Foundation.

Pollinger’s five-course menu was magnificent, elevating the fresh seafood flavors with nuanced, expert preparations.  The featured dishes included Striped Bass Sashimi with peach chutney and macadamias, Loup de Mer en Papillote and Whole Roast Branzino stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and olives.  The menu was paired with three delightful Italian wines from the Banfi Vintners portfolio: Vigne Regali Pricipessa Perlante Gavi Sparkling, 2010 Vigne Regali Gavi Principessa Gavia and 2009 Vigne Regali Dolcetto d’Acqui L’Ardi.

The Wine Cellarage’s exclusive interview with Chef Ben Pollinger is below…

WC: I’ve read that you have a 500 square ft organic garden, where is it located?

Ben: It’s a home garden. I live in Oradell, New Jersey.  Just to be completely honest with you, when it was 500 square ft, I was living in Lodi, New Jersey.  It’s a little bit smaller now, probably 300 square ft.  I moved last year, last summer, and had to replant my garden and it’s still a very large garden.  Just because of my yard layout, I have another thirty pots with all different kinds of herbs, so besides my vegetables and such, I probably have about 30 different herbs.  This year, I  also planted a peach tree in my yard.

WC: What suggestions do you have for New Yorkers interested in urban gardening?

Ben: You need living soil for any kind of garden, but particularly for planters and potted plants.  You need good living soil, not just sterile topsoil that you find at the garden center.  You need living organisms in there.  If you can, this is probably exceptionally hard, but if you can get farm soil, I would do that. I would suggest going to a farmer’s market and asking a farmer, “hey, can you bring me a five gallon bucket of dirt and I’ll buy it off of you.” I would start with good Hudson Valley black dirt, North of NJ, old alluvial soils from ancient times and it’s rich, black and really great. Try to buy a bucket of black dirt off of a farmer.  If you can, amend your soil with compost. At the farmer’s markets in the city, you can buy organic compost with worm castings and stuff like that.  That’s going to give you living microbes and living microorganisms. That and some worms, and each season, I would continually refresh your soil with fresh compost and get your hands on a mix of leaves.  Keep your soil vibrant and alive.  I know this is hard to do in an urban setting.  In my garden, I add all of my leaves every fall.  I dig them into my garden and they break down.  Every summer, I take my grass clippings from the lawn and spread them like mulch in between the plants.  Continually amending the soil with living matter. If you’re ambitious, I would buy a composter for your sink with red worms in it.  They look like earthworms, but they’re small and red. If you can deal with worms in your place and you have enough room, get a composter.  The key is good living soil.

WC: As a father of three and Executive Chef, how do you find the time for your philanthropic endeavors?  How do you balance it all?

Ben: It’s time management and organization.  A balance of committing to what you can handle.  Unfortunately, you can’t fulfill every request.  Every cause that you’re asked to do is a great cause, but you can’t fulfill every request.  It’s a matter of supporting the causes that are closest to you and good time management.  It’s a challenge.  Long days.

WC: What experience(s) have had the biggest influence over your cooking style?

Ben: I would say, two main experiences. One is not a particular moment in time, but the general experience of having worked at Tabla for Floyd Cardoz, was the most significant experience that I’ve had for several reasons.  It opened up an entire new world of cuisine, a style of food, a cuisine and ingredients that I had never been exposed to before.  In terms of the whole Indian pantry and certain Indian techniques.  Things that I would not really have ever learned anywhere else, and those things affect me not only in the way of knowing how to work and use Indian spices in an Indian manner, but just the general sense of how to use these ingredients now, and also the flavor profiles.  Different kinds of flavor profiles that exist in that cuisine, things that I have been able to work into my cuisine now.  Whether it will be some dishes that are Indian inspired or will seem Indian, but there’s even a Greek dish on the menu tonight, incorporating dill and anise seeds, as well as adding fresh dill, gives another layer of flavor.  Taking spices that I understand how to work with from an Indian perspective and using them in a non-Indian way.

The other main thing is working under Floyd is really where I learned to be a Chef.  As opposed to being a cook or even a good Sous-Chef.  He really taught me how to manage the business side of running a restaurant.  Food is first, but you also need to hold the business side together.  He really taught me how to do that.  How to manage the labor and ingredient costs, how to manage scheduling and planning a menu.  How to maintain a restaurant.  He taught me how to run a restaurant.

The other main experience overall would have been the year that I lived in Monaco and worked for Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV.  The life experience of living overseas and living in a different culture was just huge.  The general flavor profile and style of cooking and food that exists in the French Riviera and the South of France.  More in general, the Northern Mediterranean, South of France, North of Italy, Coastal Spain, there are a lot of similarities in those areas that really affect my cooking.  A lot of them are really driven by the same kind of lightness of flavor, clarity of ingredients.  This may sound like a cliché, but olive oil instead of butter.  It’s really a lighter, cleaner style of cooking that I think overall really defines what I do, defines my style of cooking.

WC: Where does your affinity for preparing seafood and fish stem from?

Ben: Most restaurants, particularly at our level, generally break down the cooking responsibilities.  They create stations based on either ingredient and/or the equipment that you’re cooking it on.  A lot of the restaurants that I worked in were very classic, where you have a cook who cooks fish, a cook who cooks meat, a cook who cooks vegetables, and as a cook, the fish station was my favorite station to work.  I love cooking meat, and I’m very good at cooking meat as well, but I really just like the fish because there are so many more different varieties out there than meat. I think that fish can require a little bit more finesse to cook and it’s a little less forgiving, so it’s a little trickier to cook and a little more challenging.  It’s kind of more reflective of how I like to eat these days, a little lighter.  I still eat plenty of meat, but I like how fish is generally a lot lighter than any given meat.  As well, from the perspective of being a Chef, from an artistic perspective, you can apply a broader palate of other ingredients and styles and flavors to fish that are a lot more challenging than what you can do with meat, you can do a lot more with fish.

WC: Do you have a favorite wine region, if so, which is it and why?

Ben: Champagne.  It’s so refreshing and crisp, there are so many different styles within Champagne as well.

WC: If there were a wine you could drink every day, what would it be?

Ben: Champagne. I don’t drink anymore, but when I did, I really enjoyed the bolder Champagnes.  A blanc de noir or even a full-bodied yeasty Champagne, like Bollinger, Ruinart, Krug. Bigger, fuller Champagnes would be my preference.

WC: Do you have an all-time favorite ingredient to work with?

Ben: Good question.  Olive oil.  I use a lot of olive oil and there are so many different styles of olive oil.

WC: What is your wish for the future of food and dining in the U.S.?

Ben: I hope we get to a point where people have a better understanding of where their food comes from.  And not that everybody has to be into everything, some people tonight were squeamish about when I was taking the guts out of the fish. That’s fair enough and you don’t have to be into that, but I think that people need to really understand that their food comes from a living animal that had to be killed to be put on their plate, and to respect that process, and that your produce comes from the land.  Your chicken doesn’t come from a Styrofoam package in the store, it comes from a chicken.  I think we need to have an understanding of where our food comes from because the next thing we need is to live our lives in a manner, and eat in a manner, that supports overall sustainability and good health of the planet.  I’m not against farmed protein or even farmed fish, but I think we need to have all of this stuff in a manner that’s sensible.  We need to have more of our food come from more natural sources and raised in a manner that is natural.  We need to raise our protein in a way so that we don’t need to jack them up with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick, or with hormones to get them to grow faster.

I wish we could get to a point where we treat food less as a commodity, and more as an actual ingredient that we’re going to eat.  There’s a quote from this book Tomatoland, a farmer is asked what he thinks about the way that his tomatoes taste.  He responds that he doesn’t get paid by the taste, he gets paid by the pound.  We need to grow foodstuffs that are for taste first, and support artisanal production.  We need less industrialization of the food process. We need to have an understanding that quality food costs money, quality food can’t be cheap.

In terms of food and dining, I think there’s room across the spectrum of restaurants, for everything from very casual street food and small Mom & Pop restaurants, all the way to ultra-luxe dining, there’s room for all of it, but I wish we got a little bit closer, particularly on my end of the spectrum, to cooking more from a natural perspective.  I don’t want to say that we should be stuck in the past and not move forward with new technology, but I want there to be a bit more emphasis on teaching folks how to cook, how to cook traditionally, and then move on to more modern things.  But you have to understand where you came from to go someplace.

MORE »